When I think of Thanksgiving, I think of family time. Days off are spent laughing and practicing gratitude with my favorite peeps.
But for many people in recovery from an eating disorder, the Thanksgiving holiday has a different meaning. It’s a day celebrating binge eating. Recently, several people in recovery from eating disorders have expressed their disdain for Thanksgiving.
• Too much variety, and too large portion sizes provided for everyone, which encourages overeating
• Feeling scrutinized for not eating (or for not overeating) enough in comparison to other family members
• Feeling pressured to binge by the above scrutiny
• Feeling disgusted by watching others overfill their plates and then their mouths
• Close loved-ones eyeing the person in recovery anxiously all day, checking for signs of relapse
• Spending a day focused on food, food, and more food
• Being "forced" to partake in eating the holiday's traditional foods, rather than being allowed to mindfully listen to what their bodies want and need on a given day, a practice that has served many people well in their recovery
• Watching loved ones eat until the feel sick, and laugh about it. One person said it was akin to sitting around with inebriated friends and family while being in recovery from alcoholism
For those in recovery, it is important to give yourself permission to remake the rules of the binge eating holiday, and break from tradition. Some may chose to forego the gathering all together, or to stop by before the meal rather than participate in full. Others may speak with hosts about their needs prior to the gathering, to ensure they will feel comfortable.
Supportive family members might consider making a new tradition, with less food on the table. Perhaps allowing the person in recovery to decide on a favorite meal rather than forcing him/her to partake in the spread of traditional food. But most of all, the rest of us can be mindful of the needs of our loved ones who have suffered with eating disorders, the largest killer among psychiatric disorders. For some, the holiday feasts are a time of pain and struggle, and raising our awareness can help create a safe space for everyone.